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Conduct Arising to Egregious Fault Can Create Grounds to Deny Alimony

In the Appellate Court decision Clark v. Clark rendered on October 19, 2012, a Court in New Jersey determined that the wife’s behavior was such that the award of alimony ordered by the trial judge should be reversed and a new trial held in light of the wife’s actions. The role of marital fault was addressed previously in the case of Mani v. Man, 183 N.J.70 (2005). In Mani, the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey determined that marital fault was ‘irrelevant’ when determining whether a spouse was entitled to receive alimony.

“Alimony is neither a punishment for the payor nor a reward for the payee.” Alimony exists to assist an ‘economically dependent spouse.’ Nonetheless, in the recent Appellate Division decision in Clark v. Clark, the Court noted that where fault ‘has affected the parties’ economic life’ and ‘violates societal norms,’ it may be taken into consideration.

In Clark, the wife secreted hundreds of thousands of dollars from the family business. The wife was ordered to repay one-half of these monies as part of the distribution of marital property. The husband argued that this conduct led to the parties’ divorce and should be considered when determining whether he should have any obligation to pay alimony, or to pay a reduced amount of alimony.

The Appellate Division agreed with the husband’s argument. The case was sent back to the trial judge for consideration as to whether the wife’s ‘egregious fault’ should be factored into the alimony ‘calculus’ and whether it should be considered as an offset against any alimony award determined by the trial judge. The Court concluded that the trial judge should not have ignored the ‘dishonest, illegitimate conduct’ of the wife and its impact “on the past and future economic security” of the husband and their children.